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Judge Boots Amendment Eight From Ballot; Author Says Opponents 'Mischaracterizing' Its Intent

Collier Co. School Board and Constitution Revision Commission Member Erika Donalds promotes Amendment Eight during a 4th of July parade in Naples. Donalds is the architect of the multi-tiered proposal.
Erika Donalds

Florida is among a minority of states that only allow school districts to approve new charter schools. A proposal once slated on the November ballot seeks to change that. But the fate of amendment eight is unclear after a Leon County Circuit judge ruled its ballot summary is vague and misleading. Now the crafter of the plan is pushing back, arguing her referendum has been mischaracterized by opponents of school choice.

Amendment Eight is made up of three ideas including term limits for local school board members, civics education. But the subject of the lawsuit is the third part, which deals with who can approve new charter schools. The amendment ballot summary maintains a school board’s duty to public schools it establishes, but permits the state to operate, control and supervise public schools not established by the school board," says attorney Ron Meyer. 

But the language in the body of the amendment says, "the school board won’t oversee schools it doesn’t establish.”  

He argues the two parts don’t match up, and that the amendment doesn’t tell voters they could be approving independent charter school authorizers. But the amendment’s architect, Collier County School Board Member Erika Donalds, calls that accusation a mischaracterization of her intent:

“It does not create an alternate authorizer for charter schools. It doesn’t mandate the state do that at all. In fact…nothing in the current manner of approving and overseeing charter schools will change. The amendment only provides freedom to the legislature to do those things and others that perhaps aren’t being focused on.”

Donalds says right now, the legislature doesn’t have that authority due to a nearly 10-year-old court ruling:

“The legislature tried to create an alternate…by creating the Schools of Excellence Commission several years ago. Unfortunately, because of the language in the constitution that is being amended by Amendment Eight, the court says that was unconstitutional and that only the district school boards could operate control and oversee public schools.” 

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled the amendment is too vague and that it should be struck from the November ballot. That ruling will be appealed. Most of the proposals placed on the ballot by the once-every-20 years constitution revision commission are being challenged.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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